Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Movie Review: Notes on a Scandal

Notes on a Scandal

In Brief: What's Good

  • Impressively creepy and disturbing performance by Judi Dench as a "friend" and emotional "vampire" to Cate Blanchett's character.

  • Awesome performance by Cate Blanchett as a youthful, bohemian, sympathetic character.

  • Nice supporting role by Bill Nighy as the husband of Blanchett's character.

  • Brisk pace and appropriate runtime. Does not drag, run too long, lack closure, or have "false endings."

In Brief: What's Not As Good

  • The background music was a bit overbearing at times. Perhaps the problem was the speakers in the theater I was in being too loud, but it also seemed like the music occasionally went on too long and/or drowned out the dialogue.

B Story
A Acting
B Directing
B Visuals

Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is a lonely history teacher and self-proclaimed "battleaxe" at a secondary school in London, England. At the beginning of the school year, she befriends a new art teacher named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), a bohemian free spirit who is happily to married to an older man named Richard (Bill Nighy) and is the mother of a teenage daughter and a younger son with Down Syndrome.

Barbara gradually develops a freakish and unhealthy obsession with Sheba. When Barbara spies Sheba forming a sexual relationship with a student, she uses their friendship as emotional blackmail and the psychological intrigue begins.

Cate Blanchett plays Sheba as a well-intentioned teacher, wife, and mother who is just trying to hold on to her diminishing youthfulness. Getting married early in life to an older man and having mothered a disgruntled daughter and a handicapped son, she feels almost entitled to having something new and exciting in her life. Conflicted by both guilt and lust, she wants to end her relationship with her student but is practically addicted to it like a drug.

In the real world, Sheba's character would be seen as a deviant and a criminal. But in the movie, Blanchett plays her character as so nice, you almost feel sympathy for her. That feeling is enhanced by how creepy, manipulative, and emotionally disturbed Judi Dench plays her character and how Barbara uses those traits against Sheba. While Sheba may have committed a horrible crime herself, Barbara appears evil in comparison. Like most evil things, Barbara's friendship is attractive and inviting to Sheba even after Barbara threatens to tell Richard of what Sheba's done. They continue to bounce back and forth between conflict and mutual support.

In a welcome supporting role, Bill Nighy is excellent as Sheba's husband Richard. I really liked Nighy in the role of an aging rock star in the romantic comedy Love Actually, and he does not disappoint here either.

Like Volver, this movie feels a little like a soap opera, but while Volver was light-hearted, Notes on a Scandal is intense, dark, and dramatic. It has a fast build up, a nice pace, and a short running time, so there's no room for boredom. The worst I could say about the film is it might be slightly forgettable in the long run, but it is a well made vehicle for Oscar-worthy performances nonetheless.

Oscar Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actress: Judi Dench

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett

  • Nomination - Best Adapted Screenplay: Patrick Marber

  • Nomination - Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actress: Judi Dench

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett

Golden Globe Awards

  • Nomination - Best Drama Lead Actress: Judi Dench

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett

  • Nomination - Best Screenplay: Patrick Marber

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